It’s a real thing, and they are fully combat capable.

It wasn’t long ago that we heard about F-16 fighter jets functioning as drones to serve as realistic targets to help fine tune new weapons integrated into the F-35 fighter jet. But, that just wasn’t enough for old Uncle Sam, and now Lockheed Martin has announced that an F-16 drone as not only successfully flown in formation with a manned F-35 but planned and executed an air-to-ground assault and then returned to formation once its mission was complete. What’s really crazy, however, is that the F-16 drone also identified an air threat, engaged in combat, and then proceeded to complete its original mission.

That’s right! Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Air Force has teamed up and can now modify an F-16 fighter jet to not only fly on its own but engage in air-to-air and air-to-ground combat all on its own. It can assess threats as they come and deal with them accordingly all on its own. Reportedly, the drone makes use of Lockheed’s advanced collision avoidance system to ensure the safety of other manned aircraft in formation. Captain Andrew Petry of the Air Force Research Lab said, “We’ve not only shown how an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle can perform its mission when things go as planned but also how it will react and adapt to unforeseen obstacles along the way.”

This is a big deal in more ways than one, so keep reading to learn more.

A Small Piece of a Much Bigger Picture

If Self-Driving Cars Are Scary, how do you Feel About Autonomous Fighter Jets?
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An F-16 that can fly on its own, assess and engage threats, and return to formation is a pretty big deal, but it’s only a small piece of a much larger goal. In the future, more advanced aircraft that are manned may be in control of entire fleets of unmanned F-16 drones. That’s right, entire fleets of unmanned drones. That means the Air Force can launch massive air attacks while putting very few pilots at risk. This will be extremely helpful in highly active combat areas, and in engaging extremely dangerous targets or complex missions. The drones will be able to act as addition ears, eyes, and shooters to back-up our other manned aircraft as well. The drones will eventually receive decision-grade information from various sources including satellites and radars, and thanks to something the Air Force calls an “open mission system” these older drones can communicate and share data with newer, more advanced aircraft with ease.

Science Fiction Fans Will Tell You This is Bad News

If Self-Driving Cars Are Scary, how do you Feel About Autonomous Fighter Jets?
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If Self-Driving Cars Are Scary, how do you Feel About Autonomous Fighter Jets?
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Alright, science fiction has shown us time and time again that artificial intelligence will eventually turn on us right? It happened in the Terminator series, it happened in iRobot, and who knows how many Star Trek episodes have touched base on this concept as well – The was certainly an episode in the original Star Trek TV series, and the was an Episode in Star Trek Voyager as well. The point is, science fiction has been known to predict things in the past. Star Wars predicted the hover bike, Minority Report has predicted heads up touch displays (air touch technology in real life,) and The Jetsons robot vacuum can be purchased as a Roomba, and the cartoon predicted flatscreen TVs. Star Trek alone has predicted things like 3D printers, tablets, Google Glass, Scanadu Scout, and flip phones (replicators, pads, virtual display device, tricorders, and communicators, respectively)

Not that I’m going to come out and say that one day AI really is going to become self-aware and determine humans as threats, but you really can’t deny that science fiction has predicted quite a bit of technology that we now, in some cases, take for granted. For now, it’s nice to know that in the midst of a serious armed conflict that fewer pilots will be put at risk once the Air Force puts large numbers of these F-16 drones into service. Let’s just hope they don’t turn on us, right?

About the F-16

If Self-Driving Cars Are Scary, how do you Feel About Autonomous Fighter Jets?
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There are a lot of advanced aircraft out there these days ready to put in work, but today F-16 is considered to be the most capable fourth-generation multi-role fighter ever built. The newest generation is known as the F-16V. It can fly at speeds as high as 1,500 mph (that’s more than twice the speed of sound, by the way,) has a 31-foot wingspan, can produce up to 29,000 pounds of thrust from its single engine, and can handle up to 9 gs. Compared to the original F-16s that rolled off the line back in 1976, the F-16V has an increased range and payload, advanced sensors, sophisticated decoys, and is the sheer definition of a high-performance aircraft.

If Self-Driving Cars Are Scary, how do you Feel About Autonomous Fighter Jets?
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Source: Lockheed Martin

All images seen hear are courtesy of Lockheed Martin

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